At the time of the raid on the family home she was growing 34 plants in a small greenhouse on her rural property outside of Sacramento, medicating from a double mastectomy and subsequent chemotherapy treatments. She was also sharing her harvest with needful patients at no charge.
Her lineage includes seven generations of physicians from both sides of her family isle. Her grandfather, Francis M. Pottenger, founded Internal Medicine in this country.
In the Shadow of Brilliance
Mollie sits on a thin mattress. She uses a pencil and simple ruled paper to tell her story. Black mold causes her eyes to water, her nose to itch.
My mother was a child of privilege, she writes.A prison guard walks slowly past her cell. It will be mealtime soon. The sound of other inmates stirring causes her stomach to tighten, but she continues, for her story is an important one. Her life, the life of her mother, her grandfather, it’s her lineage and their story is her own. It’s what brought her to this place, and what caused her to be outspoken to the point of incarceration.
My mother’s father was a brilliant physician, Mollie continues and pauses. Why can’t she refer to him as “grandfather?”
Mollie doesn’t blame her parents or her grandfather she credits her lineage – seven generations of brilliant physicians from both sides of the family isle.
At the turn of the century Mollie’s grandfather, Dr. Francis Pottenger, owned and operated a one hundred bed sanitarium in the heart of what is now Los Angeles. Ahead of his time, it was run as a holistic retreat with a working dairy and farm, providing fresh, healthy food to its guests.
After his first wife died of tuberculosis Pottenger became a world expert on the affliction, authoring 27 books on the subject, and establishing the subspecialty of Internal Medicine in this country.
My grandmother, my grandfather’s third wife, was born in 1800s Los Angeles when it was still the “Wild West,” she writes. Her father, my maternal great-grandfather, was murdered before her eyes when she was just six years old.This experience caused Mollie’s grandmother to fear everything, including germs, and she was said to have severe obsessive-compulsive disorder, commonly referred to as “OCD” today.
The youngest of four children, Mollie’s mother, Caroline, had twenty years between she and her closest sibling. Her care was put in the hands of her grandmother and several servants.
Due to her mother’s disorder, she protected Caroline to a fault, instructing staff to supervise her high maintenance child around the clock, never leaving her alone. Not allowed to attend school, private tutors were brought in, causing her to live a life of solitude.
My mother was exceptionally gifted, Mollie pressed on.
Someone was crying in the distance. Many of the inmates were mentally ill and cried out in the night. Many cried for days, unattended. The line for psychoactive drugs was long, forming three times a day.
Her pencil needed sharpening. Her pen was stolen two days ago, but she had to wait for store privileges to buy another.
My mother spoke fluent French, had a photographic memory, was an artist and a poet… she continued, through tears.Strength is one of Mollie Fry’s defining characteristics; strength with a soft spot and the collective pain that only comes from a lineage of struggle.
Her grandfather was old school and didn’t believe women had much to offer. Her grandmother’s OCD which hovered over the family like a dark cloud, was stark contrast to her daughter.
My mother was a free spirit and when she finally escaped to college, she realized a life previously denied.
Mollie’s mother wanted to be a doctor, like her father and her two brothers before her. Though she had the mental capacity to excel, this was unacceptable and unheard of, especially to the towering genius before her, Dr. Pottenger.
Despite the disapproval, she went off to medical school in the 1950s. She was one of three women in her class.
Mollie’s father also came from a good family, but not good enough for her grandmother. He too wanted to become a doctor, but World War II intervened. He joined the service as a lieutenant and finished medical school in three years.
Her father was an only child and his mother was another dominant figure. Mollie writes, He too was brilliant in his own way. He invented things, but had no follow-through.Her father invented the relay, opening the door for the touch-tone telephone. He spoke to President Kennedy’s staff about the space project, and they listened. He understood complex molecular theory simultaneously with Linus Pauling, and watched as Pauling was honored with the Nobel Peace Prize.
From these two people came my brother and myself, she writes, her arm cramping from pain.
A devout Catholic, soon she can go to the chapel and pray – the highlight of her day.
Mollie’s parents were married seven years before their first child, her brother, Doug was born, just three months after her mother graduated from medical school. It was decided she would stay home with the baby as the family settled in Boston, far from both controlling mothers.
They made their home in Boston, miles from both controlling mothers.I understand my brother was an active child, curious and uncooperative – too much for my sheltered mother to handle.
Help was hired after 17 interviews. Mollie refers to her as, “a lovely women from Ireland,” whose parents had “escaped” to America. She had three boys who were nearly grown, allowing her to travel with her charges. Soon all seven members of the combined families returned to Los Angeles.
Brother Doug was nearly three years old when Mollie was born in 1956. Shortly thereafter her mother became too ill to care for anyone. As was common in the day, she was placed in the sanitarium, by orders of her father, Dr. Pottenger.
Breast-feeding at the time, Mollie’s mother brought the infant with her. Mollie spent her first year passed from one nurse’s hands to the next.
I spent 80 percent of my time there in the hands of strangers. Doug only saw my mother one hour a week.Her grandmother boasted of having to spank Doug each day. His anger caused him to smash a glass tabletop with a hammer. When mother and daughter came home, Doug’s resentment of his little sister became the focus of his anger.
My parents were brilliant, but very self-absorbed.
Each day her father helped others as a psychiatrist, but was unaware of the issues between his own children.
By the time she was two her mother, who had once been a free spirit herself, believed her children should be free too. Unfortunately, this translated to no supervision.
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Coming up… Chapter Two, “Damaged Goods,” detailing Doc Fry’s trials and tribulations with an infancy rape, illness, and a coming of age.
Please “like” Doc Fry’s Fan page on Facebook,
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Editor’s note: Sharon Letts began her love of gardening in Southern California by her mother’s side, watching as she buried fish heads at the base of roses.
At 24, Sharon hung her shingle, “Secret Garden,” planting flower beds for dainty ladies. Gardening led to producing and writing for television with “Secret Garden Productions.”
Today Sharon continues to write about gardening and all that implies, advocating for the bud, and writing for many magazines, including DOPE (Defending Our Patients Everywhere).
She also pens “Road Trip: In Search of Good Medicine,” touring MMJ states, following the Green Rush.